Archive for March, 2009

A job is a job is a job

Posted: March 31, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Just something else I remembered about my time in the hotel industry… It taught me a few things that I have never forgotten. The first was that it costs us very little to be polite to a fellow being, and the second was that no job was below one’s dignity.
Sitting in a restaurant or staying in a hotel, most of us love to order the staff around. After all, it’s their job to run around and be at our beck and call, isn’t it? I hope, after what happened at the Taj and Oberoi-Trident recently, we will look at hotel staff differently.As a trainee I remember being asked to report to a hotel in Worli for my summer training. Once there I was sent to housekeeping, where I was handed an apron and sent to a room just vacated by a guest. For a guy so used to having the maid clean his room, nothing quite prepared me for the shock. I was asked to clean the bathroom! So, there I was, down on my knees, scrubbing the commode clean of someone else’s excreta. Once I crossed that hurdle, I realized that no job, however insignificant it may be, was difficult or demeaning!


This one’s about stuck-up celebrities and film stars — not all of them are, but there are those who really make me wonder…. I met one the other day and she was so full of herself that I really wondered when she would implode!
I worked at a five-star hotel for three years in the 1980s, when Pune had only one such hotel, and anybody who was somebody wanted to stay there. After the initial star-struck reaction I realized that most celebrities were… well…human, but not necessarily like us! They had the same foibles; the same idiosyncrasies; the same prejudices and got the same hangovers!
They too misbehaved with the receptionists; they too got dead drunk and created a scene (I saw quite a few of those). They also checked in to the hotel with their mistresses and took rooms with interconnecting doors — just in case the wife showed up!! Quite a few times, it was touch and go. The mistress left from the ‘Out’ gate even as the wife drove in to the hotel. Thank God, we had two gates some distance apart! Now you know why I said “…not necessarily like us!”
There were the classy ones too. This lot never failed to wish you when they came in and went out, and did everything politely – even complain. And these were the rich, REALLY RICH ones. I remember a regular American guest who was with the then Rajneesh Ashram (now Osho Commune), who would come down to the reception, once he was settled in, with a long list of complaints about his room. He never shouted or spoke rudely, just handed over a sheet of paper with his list of complaints. He expected things to be fixed when he got back in the evening and they usually were.
He came down to the lobby one night because he couldn’t sleep and we had a long chat about ‘Bhagwan Rajneesh’ and ihs business back in the US. He showed me a folder which had the profiles of his group companies – there were at least two dozen names there! It was no wonder he could stay in a five-star hotel for six months at a stretch! And he always tipped me twenty bucks every morning on his way to the Ashram!! In those days, twenty bucks could buy me a packet of Wills Navy Cut, a snack at Vaishali and a movie – two days in a row, so I wasn’t complaining.
But, I’ve also met some complete jerks. These were the kind that really made you wonder whether this was the same person you had read and heard so much about! Like the middle-aged actor who was a superstar of his time. He came with his girl friend and some friends, and wanted two rooms. We had a suite vacant and were ready to give him that, but he insisted on two rooms. He first tried the usual “I know your GM well” line, but when that didn’t cut ice with us, he cajoled us.
Soon the cajoling stopped and the demands started, followed by threats of complaints to the GM, but we refused to budge. Till finally he and his girl friend were given the option of either sharing the suite with their friends or looking for accommodation elsewhere. The chose the former, because the superstar couldn’t possibly stay at a four-star hotel, could he? Oh, and his complaint was trashed by the GM!

More later…Cheers!

Tata walks the talk

Posted: March 24, 2009 in Tata
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Judging by the response it has received the Nano seems to be heading in the right direction – into people’s homes and hearts. Till today, the Maruti 800 was in a way every Indian’s car – at least every Indian who could afford it. Will the Nano replace the 800 as India’s darling? It’s something we’ll have to wait and watch. Personally, I think it will. I asked my friend Adil Jal Darukhanwala about the Nano the other day and his take was “it’s a fantastic car”. As someone who lives, breathes and eats anything on wheels, I respect Adil’s views. I bought my Swift after he recommended it (“the World’s best car in its segment”) and I’ve had no complaints.
But it’s not the Nano that has captured my imagination, but the man behind it. Ratan Tata is the true inheritor of JRD’s legacy – not just in terms of material wealth that came as his way of the Tata group head but also in terms of ethics, principles and honesty – something that JRD embodied. Had JRD been alive today, he would have been proud of his protégé. Tata and India did what bigger companies around the world just spoke about. While they just talked, Tata walked the talk. It’s a lesson our politicians – who always promise but seldom deliver – can learn from.
Some reader cribbed that the interiors were cheap! Of course, it is cheap. For one lakh what did he expect, the interiors of a Honda? Someone else said one can’t speed. Why anyone should drive beyond 60 kmph on city roads, is beyond my comprehension. We are not on the e-way guys, and even there the speed limit’s 80 kmph. Others are saying the Nano will mess up the already polluted environment, that it’s more than the promised Rs one lakh price limit, etc etc. Give it a rest people, and let’s just savour the moment.

Here are two issues, both equally relevant when it comes to our fundamental rights – but see how we perceive them. The first is the ‘pink chaddi’ campaign against Muthalik and the Ram Sene. The second is a campaign to end ragging, by the family of Aman Kachroo, the student who was beaten to death by his seniors at a medical school in Himachal Pradesh.

The ‘Pink Chaddi’ group was started on Facebook and had 50,000+ members in less than a week. The second, ‘Justice for Aman Kachroo’ has just 1607 and quite a few Facebook members, including your truly have been asking members to join the campaign but with little response. So, why is there empathy for pink chaddi and apathy for Aman Kachroo? Was the ‘pink chaddi’ campaign more up-market than the reason for which a 19-year-old had to give up his life? Is human life worth so little to us.

Children don’t deserve such a death – hell, no one deserves such a death. But time and again, children die or attempt suicide unable to bear the ragging at their institutions, and the authorities first attempt a cover-up; then try to taint the victim’s character, and accept the crime only when the shit hits the fan.

A cousin, who studied at one of the premier technology institutes in the country in the 1980s, told me how juniors were put through the grind when they joined. When seniors were playing cards in one of the rooms, and wanted to smoke, the juniors were ordered to become ‘ashtrays’ – they were supposed to sit on their haunches next to the seniors, with their MOUTHS OPEN so that ash could be tipped in their mouth. Ouch! To those with a morbid sense of fun and fair play, this may be much better than being beaten to death, but that’s no consolation.

Now of course, premier institutions like the one referred to above have clamped down on ragging and students who indulge in it are told to drop a year and come back next year to continue the curriculum. Freshers are now given right of way and seniors usually keep a safe distance from them for fear of being reprimanded. Now it’s the freshers who are rude with the seniors! And this was conveyed to me by a student at IIT Powai. Sadly, in all this what is lost is the spirit of camaraderie and friendship. But I guess, to avoid incidents like the one that happened with Aman Kachroo and, just yesterday, with the girl in Andhra Pradesh who tried to commit suicide because she couldn’t take the ragging, these steps are necessary.

So maybe it’s time to see beyond pink chaddis and pub going loose women, and take up the fight for Aman Kachroo’s family and also ensure that no kids, whether yours or mine, lose their lives?

Trumper and Sehwag?

Posted: March 11, 2009 in Uncategorized
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No Kabby, I haven’t seen Victor Trumper play, he WAS very much before my time and I’m sure your’s too! But if Sehwag plays like him then I can guess what he must have been like. Do their batting styles look familiar? The Sehwag picture is courtesy
Here a quote from wikipedia on Trumper: His most remarkable test season was played in England in 1902. It was one of the wettest summers on record, yet Trumper in 53 innings scored 2,570 runs, and without a single not out had an average of 48.49. Harry Altham wrote: “From start to finish of the season, on every sort of wicket, against every sort of bowling, Trumper entranced the eye, inspired his side, demoralized his enemies, and made run-getting appear the easiest thing in the world.”
CB Fry added, “He had no style, and yet he was all style. He had no fixed canonical method of play, he defied all orthodox rules, yet every stroke he played satisfied the ultimate criterion of style — the minimum of effort, the maximum of effect.”
“No one,” wrote Plum Warner, “ever played so naturally. Batting seemed just part of himself, and he was as modest as he was magnificent.”
Sounds familiar?

The other day I was talking cricket with a senior sports correspondent of a national agency and the topic veered around to Virender Sehwag. He joked that only God knows what makes that guy tick. He doesn’t display much footwork. He just stands there and clobbers the ball. Even the most astute cricketing brains in the country are at a loss to figure out the reason for his amazing success. The Indian think-tank had decided to let him play the way he does, because even they can’t figure him out. Wise move!

After watching the guy playing the last few seasons and especially after seeing him racing towards the 7th fastest century in ODI history, the fastest by an Indian, and his 11th, at Christchurch today, I can’t help agree. And to think I was one of those doubters! My reasoning was that it had become such a competitive game and technology was being used so often to fugure out a batsman or a bowler’s flaws, that international teams would sort out Viru pretty quickly. There are so many examples of such players whose careers have ended that way. For a while, some years ago it really seemed that way, but the reality as we learnt later was different. According to the same sports correspondent, the then coach tried his best to convince Sehwag that he should change his style and was told by the opener in true Jat style not to bother about him – he was fine the way he was! That probably explains why he was dropped from the team.

But I owe an apology to a couple of former colleagues at Hindustan Times, Lucknow for declaring that Viru wouldn’t last more than three years on the international circuit! This was after watching his lack of footwork and poor technique sometime around 2002. It hasn’t changed much since then, but Sehwag has gone from strength to strength and continued to thrash the bowling wherever he has played against all levels of opposition. Obviously, reason and all things that make sense don’t really make any sense when it comes to Sehwag’s batting. So… apologies guys! All things said – for and against – let’s just enjoy this maverick opener’s performance till it lasts! I do believe Sehwag is a rare breed.

When things fall apart…

Posted: March 6, 2009 in India, Pakistan
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Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity

I don’t really like poetry – I never did – even as a student. But I remember these lines from the Second Coming by Yeats for two reasons. The first because, the opening lines are part of a text book (Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe) I studied in school, and I thought they were chilling. The second is because these lines capture perfectly, the events that have been unfolding in our north-western neighbourhood. Gun battles on the streets were something we only read about in the Westerns of Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour and J.T. Edson – or in the movies. From books to theatres to the TV screens and now into our lives – it’s the Gunfight at the OK Corral that’s showing week after week – only these reruns are for real and playing out right next door. Pakistan is hurtling towards anarchy and no one, even if they wanted to, can do anything to stop it. But what can anyone do if the country itself wants to step into the abyss?

Shouldn’t the world be sympathising with the Pakistanis after all that happened in Lahore a few days back? But not too many people seem to be offering commiserations. It’s almost as if they’re saying “it serves them right.” Was it an inside job? The voices supporting that claim are getting louder. Yet our neighbours seem totally unfazed, brazenly continuing with their daily dose of cooked up ‘evidence’ and ‘arrests’. If one has to feel sorry for anyone, it would be for their sportspersons who will have nowhere to compete, not in their own country, and not outside.

And to think that the Pakistani establishment actually blamed India for the attacks. If that were true, it would have been one of those rare occasions that Pakistan actually cooperated with India over something! How else could the streets of a high security area be so totally devoid of security? Could the Indians have requested their ‘friendly neighbours’ to sanitise the area before they decided to attack the convoy, and then walked away from it all seemingly confident of not being engaged by security personnel? Only a demented mind could conjure up such a fantasy.

Today it seems ironical that Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah named his new creation ‘Pakistan’ or ‘pure country’. What’s happening there today is the result of 62 years of disinformation, bigotry and prejudices. Instead of talking peace and progress, Pakistan’s leaders have been indoctrinating their people with the belief that India is their enemy and destroying India would lead them to paradise. Good luck to them!